October 27, 2016


Secret tape recordings of Kim Jong Il provide rare insight into the psyche of his North Korean regime (Barbara Demick, 10/27/16, LA Times)

It is one of the strangest stories out of a strange country: In 1978, the South Korean film actress Choi Eun-hee was kidnapped during a business trip to Hong Kong and brought to Pyongyang on the orders of Kim Jong Il. When her former husband, Shin Sang-ok, a leading film director, went to look for her, he was captured as well. Reunited, they were coerced to make movies for Kim Jong Il, gradually earning his trust to the point that he allowed them to travel to Eastern Europe, then still part of the Soviet block, to shoot films and attend film festivals. In 1986, the pair escaped to the U.S. embassy in Vienna.

Shin feared rightfully that nobody would believe this outlandish story, so he and Choi secretly taped Kim Jong Il. With a microrecorder stashed in Choi's purse, they captured Kim, who was then in charge of the film industry, pouring out his insecurities about how his country lagged behind capitalist rival South Korea.

"Why do all of our films have the same ideological plots? There is nothing new about them. ...

We don't have any films that get into film festivals.

In South Korea, they have better technology. They are like college students and we are just in nursery schools."

In the tapes, Kim also confesses that he had ordered the couple to be kidnapped so that they could make movies for him.

"I asked my advisor, who's the best director in the south? He said that his name is Shin."

Later, Kim apologized to Shin for the mistreatment he endured from the agents who kidnapped him, and for the fact that the couple were kept apart for four years.

"I didn't tell them about my plan to use you and collaborate with you. I just said bring them to me."

During a trip to Budapest, Shin turned over some of his tape recordings to a Japanese film critic who was an old friend and instructed him to give them to family. Those tapes eventually made their way to a family friend who lived in New Jersey, who brought them to the State Department.

Posted by at October 27, 2016 3:04 PM